Saturday, August 30, 2008

Song of the summer: A scientific analysis

Is it an unspoken rule that every blog post has to have a picture on top? I mean not to seem like I have a creative block with that or anything...

Anyway, I figure I'll have a more in-depth post about my thoughts on current music, politics, life and all that happy shit one of these days so this blog's more than straight album reviews and talking about how The Neptunes and Timbaland are better than your favorite producers, but what can I say, I've been busy, school's starting, and since summer's ending (even though it's gonna be retarded hot in LA for a month or so more...I miss Bay Area weather,) I thought I'd take some time to look at what could be considering this season's signature song. Enjoy.

The candidates...drumroll please.

Katy Perry -- "I Kissed a Girl" for being this year's obnoxious "My Humps" except worse;

Usher feat. Young Jeezy -- "Love in This Club" for being the summer's ubiquitous kinda club kinda slow jam, complete with another Timbaland for Dummies Polow da Don beat and a terrible Jeezy verse;

Estelle feat. Kanye West -- "American Boy" for its overall smooth summer vibe and Kanye having the most fun he has since "Drunk and Hot Girls;"

Lil Wayne feat. Static Major -- "Lollipop" for being the lewd club jam of the summer that every girl likes and guys act like they're too cool for;

Chris Brown -- "Forever" for playing every time I turn on the radio despite being corny as shit (can you tell I'm not a big Polow fan yet?;)

Rihanna -- "Take a Bow" for being this summer's "Irreplaceable" except more eye-rolling (no disrespect ladies of course;)

Rick Ross feat. T-Pain -- "The Boss," David Banner feat. Yung Joc and Chris Brown -- "Get Like Me" and Plies feat. Ne-Yo -- "Bust It Baby, Pt. 2" for being the shitty Southern rap singles du jour;

Lil Wayne -- "A Milli" for being completely ridiculous;

Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West -- "Put On" for being the latest requisite too-big-for-your-speakers Jeezy banger;

Mack 10 feat. Birdman and G. Malone -- "Big Baller (Remix)" for being the slightly generic gangsta jam of the summer that they probably only play in LA or something;

The Game feat. Keyshia Cole -- "Game's Pain" for Game trying to get you all nostalgic;

N.E.R.D. -- "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)" as Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo's bizarre choice of a lead single off Seeing Sounds;

and of course, Kidz in the Hall -- "Drivin' Down the Block" for making driving around while bumping your favorite music sound like the most boring thing ever. Was this released way earlier than summer? Ah, whatever.

Well damn. This isn't really hard considering there's only a few songs on this list that I really even like, but let's take a look anyway.

First off, we gotta get rid of "Love in This Club" and "Forever." "Love" isn't awful or anything, but the beat's too stiff for its own good, made worse by the fact that Polow apparently made it from two Apple GarageBand presets. And Jeezy really shouldn't try chick rap. "Forever" meanwhile is just plain fruity. And I've been known to enjoy my share of debatably fruity songs on occasion. See: "SexyBack," "Umbrella," songs involving the castrated singing of Pharrell Williams, etc. etc. But if I liked "Forever" I'd really have to start questioning my manliness. The fact that Polow's beat is basically an overly glossy, streamlined/Euro-ized version of "SexyBack," complete with the same drums, doesn't help matters.

Jeezy's "Put On," Wayne's "A Milli" and Mack 10's "Big Baller" remix I'm more sympathetic to. I mean they're all prime driving around in your car material while feeling badass material. However, "A Milli" blowing up aside, they don't really have that broad summer appeal. And I mean summer's supposed to be about good times, not amped the fuck up/angry shit. Though rapping along with "A Milli?" Good (potentially embarrassing) times.

"Game's Pain" and "Drivin' Down the Block" pretty much fall under the same category for me. Songs with middling beats and emcees of questionable talent that are liked based on reasons that don't seem to have a lot to do with the actual music. The former for The Game trying to give us another nostalgia trip, and the latter as Naledge's intentionally dorky (not in a good way) spin on rapping about your car. Kanye should freestyle over that beat sometime to show dude how to do goofiness right. And I wonder if Game thinks he's slick or something for grabbing Jay-Z's "Can't Knock the Hustle" producers for his album's lead single when he's been constantly dissing the guy for no reason. Damn, he showed him...

I'm not gonna say anything about the Rick Ross, Plies and David Banner singles, except that their shittiness should be self-evident. You know rap's in trouble when those are some of its biggest hits this year.

"Take a Bow" and "I Kissed a Girl." Now don't get me wrong, I can definitely tolerate Rihanna's song better, but put it like this -- when she performed it at Kanye's Glow in the Dark tour and followed up with the even more contrived "Unfaithful," it was cue for me to get more drinks. Clearly I'm some kind of chauvinist who doesn't understand women's pain. "I Kissed a Girl" meanwhile shouldn't need an explanation. Well OK -- there's guilty pleasures, and then there's songs that manage to cross that "different strokes dude" line into objectively awful territory. So I guess you can at least say "I Kissed a Girl's" helpful for better understanding the difference.

While I appreciate Pharrell's cutting analysis of cocaine-snorting girls on "Everyone Nose" and the song's grown on me, again it's not something I really associate with the whole summer vibe. I'm still not really sure why it was picked as the lead single, other than the fact that it's one of only three tracks on the album that has both Pharrell and Chad Hugo's input, or Pharrell wanting to maintain N.E.R.D.'s eccentric image. Seriously, they need to drop one of those chick tracks as a single already, those are the jams.

So that leaves us with "American Boy" and "Lollipop." Both songs that I happen to be a big fan of, and no not just because they both involve two of my favorite rappers, although yeah that helps. Now before anyone starts to roll their eyes at my inevitable choice here, let me just say that "American Boy" definitely has more of a summer and beach vibe. "Lollipop" meanwhile makes me think more of people drunk at a party looking stupid mimicking Weezy's autotuned singing. That said, the song was ubiquitous this summer, and I think anyone who even parties just occasionally was eventually won over at least somewhat by just how bizarre the whole thing is. Am I right? I mean c'mon, us bloggers are all around the 20-something range right, let's not act too cool for this stuff just yet.

Which means our winner is...N.E.R.D.'s "Windows." OK, so "Lollipop." Predictable yes, but hey sometimes the masses are right. "Windows" really should've been a single though, that song automatically gives me images of hot SoCal girls on the beach. Alright, I'll stop talking about that album.

I realize I included some songs here that probably shouldn't've qualified in the first place, and maybe left out a couple as well. But what can I say, Rihanna's "Disturbia" is no "Umbrella" or even "Don't Stop the Music," Ne-Yo's "Closer" is no "Because of You," and "Whatever You Like" = worst T.I. single ever? Then again I guess he did do that one single with Jazze Pha a few years back... As for Madonna's "4 Minutes," it's not bad but a) it's Madonna and b) Timbaland needs to come with something fresh on the pop front before Polow tricks people into thinking he's better than him. Not sure if being slightly involved with the new Pussycat Dolls album's gonna cut it.

As for songs of the fall and winter? Hopefully nothing involving T-Pain or Chris Brown. Or both.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Attention West Coastans: Snoop Dogg put out a better album this year

Feel the realness

For a while now, I've found The Game's ascent to official "popular rapper it's OK to like" status irritating on a lot of levels. Normally I try to be a live and let live guy as much as I can, but it's a little annoying when by far the most mediocre, humorless rapper in the mainstream seems to get let off the hook for completely specious reasons (awww, he's obsessed with Dre, how cute!) Especially when actually innovative, exciting rappers like Kanye West and Lil Wayne, who are basically singlehandedly keeping creativity in popular hip hop alive right now, still can't seem to escape the same tired half-assed criticisms. Actually, as far as stale by-the-numbers gangsta rap goes you can look at 50 Cent and Game as Dr. Dre's twin shit late-career proteges. 50 being the heartless, artistically devoid villain 'course, and Game being what would happen if you had a wannabe suburban thug, hip hop-obsessed little brother who decided to rap. And as far as big-budget rap formula goes, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' is better than The Documentary.

Of course, the easy excuse for Game is hot beats, duude. And don't get me wrong, I'm sympathetic. I've been known to enjoy my share of albums from non-rappin'-ass producers that have great production. Thing is, The Game's beats just aren't that good people. Documentary is a slightly better version of your typical "sounds good the first time you hear it" major-label rap album with shit tons of money dumped into it -- while there's a few highlights, "Hate It or Love It" and "Put You on the Game" are the only songs I really come back to that much. Doctor's Advocate meanwhile just had too many Scott Storch/"J.R." Rotem Dre-lite piano knockoffs and lame over-the-top bombast to qualify as anywhere near great. Really, the dude just seems to benefit from a general hip-hop mentality that favors "hard" beats over poppier material regardless of their actual quality. Or in the case of his smoother material, enough nostalgia for the West Coast style that I guess makes people go easy on "J.R." Rotem's latest Casio synth masterpiece.

At least the guy's last two albums had a handful of good tracks between 'em though. Game's latest effort LAX, meanwhile, isn't far removed from your usual bargain-bin G-Unit album. You gotta think that the guy's just getting a pass for being The Game and popular hip hop sucking at this point, much like Bun B's lazy II Trill album earlier this year. First off, let me just say that so-called "bangers" and musicality aren't mutually exclusive. Kanye hooks Game up with the album's only real standout beat on "Angel" that proves as much. Too many beats on LAX try to be bangers but end up sounding pointlessly aggressive and generic. The Raekwon collaboration "Bulletproof Diaries" is a good example despite being the best track in that mold here. There's a bunch of synthesized strings and screaming guitars that're supposed to sound menacing, but the ultimate effect is hollow and the beat just lurches around. Of course, the whiny synth G-funk knockoffs are still in effect on the album's first two tracks, and Scott Storch shows up for some of his usual synth noodling on "Let Us Live." And let's not even talk about the chick tracks. Put it this way -- they sound possibly even more pandering, forced and clueless than anything 50 Cent's done recently. No small task. Admittedly, I might like "Touchdown" more for the Curtis Mayfield sample and Raheem DeVaughn's smooth hook if the beat hadn't been buried under a pile of synth shyte. But if these songs are any indication Game just can't do chick tracks. Though maybe if he spent more time comparing girls to his favorite rappers...

Other than the beats generally sucking and Game having the dullest voice and style of any rapper right now -- he still rambles his lines without ever really switching up his flow for different beats, sounding like Nas with half the technique -- the worst part of LAX is still his grating personality. The best rappers talk about how dope they are and then show you that they aren't just talking shit. Game's mentality can be best summed up by his whining on "Ya Heard" that he's getting marginalized by people's praise for Kanye and Wayne. The guy's easily one of the most obnoxiously self-absorbed figures in rap, yet some people seem to find his constant comparisons of himself to other rappers as somehow endearing. Why? Probably because he's the only prominent rapper besides Kanye who overtly references the old school, but the dude still comes off as a nagging little kid desperate for respect. If anyone can explain how exactly this makes him an interesting rapper, let me know. Different ain't always better.

In the end, LAX is only really notable because even more than his last two albums, it vindicates every criticism that's been made about Game since the beginning. He's got a boring monoflow that people mistake for consistency, boring beats that people mistake for bangers, and a boring personality that people mistake for boring it's somehow intriguing? I dunno. In any case it'd be nice if this album flops and we're officially done with everyone involved with the G-Unit era. Clean slate. Maybe Dr. Dre'll make up for it by putting out Detox in the next year (or five) even. And hopefully I won't have to do another one of these once Young Buck puts out a shitty album of his own that people go crazy over thanks to his "brave" split with G-Unit.